Big Brother Watches You (Even When He's Dead): Surveillance and Long-run Conformity

33 Pages Posted: 5 May 2022

See all articles by Francesco D'Acunto

Francesco D'Acunto

Georgetown University

Philip Schnorpfeil

Goethe University Frankfurt

Michael Weber

University of Chicago - Finance; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: April 30, 2022


Lack of privacy due to surveillance of personal data, which is becoming ubiquitous around the world, induces persistent conformity to the norms prevalent under the surveillance regime. We document this channel in a unique laboratory---the widespread surveillance of private citizens in East Germany. Exploiting localized variation in the intensity of surveillance before the fall of the Berlin Wall, we show that, at the present day, individuals who lived in high-surveillance counties are more likely to recall they were spied upon, display more conformist beliefs about society and individual interactions, and are hesitant about institutional and social change. Social conformity is accompanied by conformist economic choices: individuals in high-surveillance counties save more and are less likely to take out credit, consistent with norms of frugality. The lack of differences in risk aversion and binding financial constraints by exposure to surveillance helps to support a beliefs channel.

Keywords: Cultural Finance, History & Finance, Social Learning, Beliefs, Persistence, Household Finance, Behavioral Finance, Big Data, FinTech

JEL Classification: D14, E21, E51, G21

Suggested Citation

D'Acunto, Francesco and Schnorpfeil, Philip and Weber, Michael, Big Brother Watches You (Even When He's Dead): Surveillance and Long-run Conformity (April 30, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Francesco D'Acunto

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

Philip Schnorpfeil (Contact Author)

Goethe University Frankfurt ( email )

Grüneburgplatz 1
Frankfurt am Main, 60323

Michael Weber

University of Chicago - Finance ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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